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Mastering Track for a Compilation

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Mastering Track for a Compilation

Postby Jake James » Mon Dec 21, 2020 2:40 pm

Hello community,

I had a song selected to be on a punk compilation CD.
The organizer told all the bands to "master their song before submitting".
He was somewhat hostile to my suggestion that albums, not songs, should be mastered.
So I need to determine loudness in the dark
and find myself in somewhat of a game of Prisoner's Dilemma
because I anticipate that these punks will mix their tracks hot and fight a volume war.
My track is sounding good at -14 LUFS-I for the streaming services
but as for the CD, I need to push it louder. How far is too far?
My ears tell me every dB extra reduces the impact of the track
yet I don't want to be the song that everyone has to turn up for.
Does the step-down to 16b CD quality have any bearing on this decision (beyond dither)?
I am not very experienced at this, so any advice for such a situation would be helpful!

:P
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Re: Mastering Track for a Compilation

Postby Martin Walker » Mon Dec 21, 2020 3:05 pm

Hi Jake!

If the organizer is telling the bands to 'master their song' then they also need to detail the target levels.

There's no ifs and buts about this - if the album is going to hang together then it needs some consistent levels throughout.

Your current -14dB LUFS is perfect, but like you I doubt that that will be the norm for submissions.

Good luck in getting more details!


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Re: Mastering Track for a Compilation

Postby James Perrett » Mon Dec 21, 2020 3:16 pm

I usually see this from the other side when I'm presented with a motley collection of files and asked to create a compilation from them. The levels of the submitted tracks can vary widely from around -8LUFS down to -16LUFS in my experience. Most of the time (unless I hear an obvious problem) I assume that what I'm sent is what the artists want it to sound like so I wouldn't change the sound. Most of my work when creating a compilation revolves around matching levels, adjusting gaps and creating the files needed for the release format.

Your best bet is to find out who is actually going to create the final master used for manufacturing and talk to them. Is it the organiser or is there someone else involved? Occasionally a band on a compilation will contact me with specific mastering instructions which I'm usually happy to go along with.

In this case it may be worth having the song professionally mastered before submitting it and letting the mastering engineer know that you're submitting it to a compilation.
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Re: Mastering Track for a Compilation

Postby CS70 » Mon Dec 21, 2020 11:07 pm

Jake James wrote:Hello community,

I had a song selected to be on a punk compilation CD.
The organizer told all the bands to "master their song before submitting".
He was somewhat hostile to my suggestion that albums, not songs, should be mastered.
So I need to determine loudness in the dark
and find myself in somewhat of a game of Prisoner's Dilemma
because I anticipate that these punks will mix their tracks hot and fight a volume war.
My track is sounding good at -14 LUFS-I for the streaming services
but as for the CD, I need to push it louder. How far is too far?
My ears tell me every dB extra reduces the impact of the track
yet I don't want to be the song that everyone has to turn up for.
Does the step-down to 16b CD quality have any bearing on this decision (beyond dither)?
I am not very experienced at this, so any advice for such a situation would be helpful!

:P

I think there's a number of reasonable assumptions you can make (and talk with the mastering engineer).

1) "Mastering" makes sense in the context of one song - basically it consists in another pair of ears and playback system making adjustments that you may have mixed, and removing headroom. If your mix is good, the adjustments will be small and unnoticeable by you (on your playback system) - because if you had noticed, you would have done them in the mix.

If your mix is not good, the mastering engineer might tell you what's the matter (if it's not a disaster) or may just produce a horrible master. Often they assume the sound you send is the sound you want, so the latter is the most likely option. Ensure your mix is good.

2) Do not mix (pun intended) compression and volume attenuation. They're very different beasts. Integrated LUFS are about volume, how loud things are over the course of the song. Normalization will simply increase or reduce the amplitude with no changes to the sound (either than the perceived ones due to Fletcher-Munson effects.. but that's the same for everyone. The listener has a volume control, and the fingers to use it). Limiting and compression on the other side, can and do change the sound.

3) It's a CD, so master making use of the full scale. At -14 LUFS your peaks won't likely be anywhere around 0dBFS, where they more or less should be for a CD. A physical CD is the one medium for which the entire 16 bit of dynamic range can be used, so use it. You should still like the master dynamic, but no point in leaving headroom on a CD. So - given the previous point - so long you increase gain without hitting 0dB, you won't change your sound a iota. After that, if you want to sound louder, you (well, the mastering engineer) needs to start limiting.

4) The punks will likely go loud. So, good old fashioned way, ask the mastering engineer to go as loud as he can while you still like the result. A trick is to listen to the mastered track at low volume, really low. Is what is left still enough to give you a bit of the feeling you were after with the mix? If not, ask the engineer to limit less and retry. If yes, you're done.

Let your taste be the judge, not the (imagined) competition.

The listener has a volume control and stay assured that if it's worth it, it will use it. Now I don't know for a fact, but I suspect "Anarchy in the UK" is not mastered anywhere as loud as anything coming out 20 years later but still rocks on pretty well..

5) No, the step down means nothing. It won't make any significant difference.
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Re: Mastering Track for a Compilation

Postby Jake James » Thu Dec 24, 2020 10:12 pm

Thanks a lot for the advice!

I had completely forgotten to take the -1dB ceiling (for the streaming master) off for the CD version, so just that reminder alone was A+.

I finally decided to send the organizer four mixes:
-one at 24 bit for streaming services, following appropriate standards
-three at 16 bit for CD (dithered), one at -14 LUFS-I, one at -11 and one at -9
With a bit of work on the kick and snare I was able to get the louder ones sounding good

The organizer can choose the loudness that fits the album flow he has in mind.

As a songwriter forced to be a jack-of-all-trades in the studio, I'm so happy to have this forum as a resource!

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